As some folks are aware, GE is involved in biotechnology development. Recently, we joined forces with Global Good to help tackle some of the challenges developing countries are facing with malaria treatment. Our goal is to enable identification of infected patients by healthcare providers when they are below the level of detection by current diagnostic tests, so that they can be treated. This will improve outcomes, and help stem the spread and eventual elimination of the malaria parasite.
Currently, if someone is suspected of having malaria, a drop of their blood is placed on a small lateral flow test paper, much like a pregnancy test, and in 15 minutes a line will appear indicating the presence of a malaria protein. The problem is, in many cases the test is just not sensitive enough to allow doctors to see the line even though the patient is indeed infected. Our team will be optimizing each part of the workflow, and employing a sensitive reader that will increase the sensitivity of the test. That means a patient could be identified as being infected with malaria much earlier, or at much lower parasite density, than is now possible.
The project is actually quite challenging. The test needs to work under all sorts of environmental conditions, cost hardly anything, be completed in 15 minutes, and be effectively administered by a nurse rather than a technician with in-depth training on the test. It also needs to be at least 10 times more sensitive than the current test, and must give the right answer. The ASSURED criteria (affordable, sensitive, specific, user-friendly, rapid and robust, equipment-free and deliverable to end users), outlined by the World Health Organization (WHO), provides a good framework for evaluating any test we might develop.
So, our team is tearing down the whole system and re-evaluating every single part. With the diversity of talent within the Global Research and Global Good organizations, we have experts who will make sure every aspect of the test is optimized. The method of sample input, the kind of paper used, the signal generation, and the reader all will be evaluated to make the test as good as it possibly can be.
When we’re done, our team will transition the test to other targets beyond just malaria. Since the underlying technology of immunoassays is used for detection of many other infections and diseases (leprosy, tuberculosis, HIV, and dengue for example), an easy-to-use, more sensitive platform could make a big difference.